He was the best hitter in baseball.
For the first 13 games of the 2006 season.
He was on pace to shatter every home run record that ever existed and was set to be a mainstay in baseball for years to come.
Then he came back down to earth and things were never the same again.
When Chris Shelton began the 2006 season, little was expected of him. He was thought of as a decent prospect and had showed pockets of potential in the previous season when he hit 18 home runs, drove in 60 runs and batted a shade under .300. The Detroit Tigers were forced to insert him in their lineup due to a lack of depth at first base and the hope that he might add some power to their lineup.
Then something magical happened.
At first he was hot. Then he was on fire, but after 13 games he was scalding. In 2006, Chris Shelton became the first player in baseball history to belt nine home runs in the first 13 games of the year.
Tigers fans had anointed him the next "Babe Ruth" or at the very least "Cecil Fielder." They gave him their support, their money for his apparel and their never-ending cheers and he gave them the finest hitting two-week period that baseball had ever seen.
Unfortunately, greatness is sometimes temporary.
No one in their right mind could have expected Shelton to continue with his race. A fall was coming, we all knew it, but we hoped it would be a followed by some consistency and that Shelton would embrace the role of superstar first basemen.
Sadly, this was never the case. After hitting nine home runs in the first 13 games, Shelton ended the season with only 16 home runs and 47 runs batted in, before being sent down to the minors midway through the season.
His Achilles' heel was always his free-swinging bat, as he struck out 107 times that season in only 373 at-bats. The same mentality that made him the "Duke of Detroit" and "Big Red" (cleverly titled after his hair color) led to his demise as an everyday player.
Shelton was never again able to recapture his power stroke with the Tigers and after failing to make the Opening Day roster in 2007 after a highly contested competition between himself and Marcus Thames, Chris Shelton was sent to Texas in exchange for Freddy Guzman.
Shelton was not able to stay at the big league level with Texas, either, and was sent down after an alarming number of strikeouts in first few weeks with the team. He was released at the end of the season. This was the last real shot that Shelton had at significant playing time.
Since 2007, Shelton has bounced around with several different clubs. He spent the 2008 campaign with the Seattle Mariners but, after hitting .480 in spring training, was never able to secure a spot at the club's major league level. His time in Seattle was the last action that Shelton saw at the big league level.
He was released at the end of the season and has since spent time in the Houston Astros farm system and is currently playing for the Mets minor league system.
Although Chris Shelton has never been able to prove himself to be an everyday player or even a big league player in the last few seasons, he will always be known for the torrid pace in which he hit home runs at the beginning of the 2006 season. He was as close to amazing as it gets and I, as a Tiger fan, will never forget the great excitement that he brought us all during his days in Detroit.
While he has certainly had a number of opportunities to establish himself, I hope that someday Shelton will be able to find a spot on a big league roster and contribute with his power. You never know—maybe he has another hot streak in him. Now he just needs a shot.
He was the best player in baseball—for 13 games.